Sermon in thanksgiving for Sclerder Abbey
Sermon on the Feast of St Augustine in thanksgiving for the Carmelite Community's life and to welcome Chemin Neuf to Sclerder Abbey
In his letter to the Corinthians, which we heard today, St Paul reminds us:
"The witness of Christ has been strong among you so you will not be without any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed..... because by calling you he has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ, and God is faithful."
It is because God is the faithful One that we can have confidence in what the future holds for Sclerder Abbey. He has been faithful in the past, and He will continue to be so in the future.
As we gather here today we look back and give thanks for the Carmelite community who have lived so faithfully here these past years. We thank God for your fidelity and witness, and most especially your life of prayer which we need so much in our world. We also give thanks for this new Chapter in the life of this place, recognising the gifts that Chemin Neuf brings to our diocese and to the UK. We thank you all for your generosity in entrusting yourselves so fully to the action of God's Spirit in this new Mission. Your presence manifests an important gift for the New Evangelisation with the energy and vitality which the newer ecclesial communities so often bring to the Church. I thank Fr Laurent Fabre especially for encouraging this new initiative.
I want also to express our gratitude to the parish community who are an important bridge of continuity between the past and the future. Your openness to the Lord is crucial for the ongoing mission of the Church in this part of the Diocese.
In the Providence of God, this Mass of Thanksgiving takes place on the feast of St Augustine. His was a Christian life filled with the sense of Christ’s presence and action. Today, there are two realities about him, in particular, which I think we do well to recall.
St Augustine was always a passionate seeker of truth; he was from the beginning and throughout his life. The first step of his conversion journey was accomplished exactly in his progressive nearing to Christianity. We know he sought truth in many places but always remained unfulfilled and somewhat dissipated. In this sense he is a very contemporary figure. Philosophy showed him the existence of reason, from which the whole world came. It indicated to him the existence of a rational dimension to all that is - the Logos – present at the heart of all things. Yet this Logos seemed yet so distant and impersonal.
Only by reading St Paul's Letters within the faith of the Catholic Church was the truth fully revealed to Augustine. This experience was summarized by him in one of the most famous passages of the Confessions. He recounts that, in the torment of his reflections, withdrawing to a garden, he suddenly heard a child's voice chanting a rhyme never heard before: tolle, lege, tolle, lege, "pick up and read, pick up and read" (VIII, 12, 29). He then remembered the conversion of Anthony, the Father of Monasticism, and carefully returned to the Pauline texts that he had recently read, and his glance fell on the passage of the Epistle to the Romans where the Apostle exhorts his listeners to abandon the works of the flesh and to be clothed with Christ (cf. 13: 13-14). He understood that the words in that moment were addressed personally to him; they came from God through the Apostle and indicated to him what he had to do at that time. Thus, he felt the darkness of doubt clearing and he finally found himself free to give himself entirely to Christ: he described this in the Confessions, as "your converting me to yourself" (Confessions, 12)
We see within this experience the contours of every human search for authenticity and freedom. We recognise too how similar experiences can be traced in the lives of the great mystical saints; in St Teresa and St John of the Cross, in St Ignatius and St Francis Xavier, and indeed, in all those who have genuinely sought goodness and truth an opened themselves to the Spirit of God. Part of our common task today is to accompany people on this journey of discovery into the God who is all goodness and truth, and who desires that we come to Him. This one important reason why we are so delighted to welcome Chemin Neuf with your experience of accompanying families, and individuals, along the path of deeper conversion to Jesus.
There is another vital dimension in Augustine's life which we do well to remember today. Initially, he thought that once he was baptized, he would attain in the life of communion with Christ, in the sacraments, in the Eucharistic celebration, the life proposed in the Gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount. However, during the last part of his life he understood that what he had concluded at the beginning about the Sermon on the Mount - that is, now that we are Christians, we live this ideal permanently - was mistaken. Only Christ himself truly and completely accomplishes the Sermon on the Mount.
Towards the end of his life, he wrote: "I understood that only One is truly perfect, and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are completely realized in only One - in Jesus Christ himself. The whole Church, instead - all of us, including the Apostles - must pray everyday: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" (De Sermone Domini in Monte, I, 19, 1-3).
We always need to be washed by Christ, and be renewed by Him. We need permanent conversion. I know this personally in my own life and I ask you to pray for me. Until the end we need the humility that recognizes that we are sinners journeying along, until the Lord gives us his hand definitively and brings us into eternal life.
We, too, need to be watchful of the gifts entrusted to us, and to keep our focus not on ourselves but on Jesus. Most especially, the Master teaches us in today's Gospel to be patient in waiting for Him, and we probably need such patience with one another too! Let us not seek our own glory in this new beginning, but rather Him who is the source and grounding of who we are.
Let us pray that we can follow the example of the great saints and live every moment of our life encountering the Lord Jesus, the only One who saves us, purifies us and gives us true joy, true peace, true life.
Bishop Mark O’Toole
28th August, 2014
Related Link: The Chemin Neuf Community